Michael Stephen Column

Recycling Plastics, UK Government Will Not Support Compostable Plastic, Plastic Pacts Mislead Consumers (FREE)

Today, Michael writes about Recycling plastics, UK government will not support compostable plastic and plastic pacts mislead consumers. This is a FREE article


I have just seen a video which explains why recycling of plastic makes very little sense in economic or environmental terms. Here’s the video:

Link to video: https://youtu.be/NLkfpjJoNkA 


In their January 2023 report Summary of responses and government response the UK government say “Compostable plastics must be sent to an industrial composter for them to compost, so if littered in the open environment they will act much like any other plastic. In addition, because they are visibly indistinguishable from non-compostable plastics, even when they are sent to industrial composters there is no guarantee that they will not be stripped out at the start of the process and sent to landfill or incineration plants.”


My attention has been drawn to the US Plastics Pact, which is treated with respect in the US, but is actually misleading consumers.  It needs to be revised, as it is distorting the market.

Their Report on PROBLEMATIC AND UNNECESSARY MATERIALS is fundamentally mistaken insofar as it relates to compostable and biodegradable plastics, because:

  • A.            The type of plastic marketed as “compostable” is problematic and unnecessary
  • B.            Oxo-biodegradable plastic is necessary, and is not problematic.

A.            “COMPOSTABLE”

Plastic marketed as compostable is:

PROBLEMATIC because it:

  1.  Does not convert into compost (ASTM D6400 and EN 13432 require it to convert into C02 gas).
  2. Is intended for a deliberate linear process and is not circular.  The material is intended to be wasted by conversion into CO2 in an industrial composting facility, and lost to atmosphere.
  3. Cannot be re-used, recycled, or made from recyclate
  4. Has been found to leave microplastics in the compost and in the open environment

UNNECESSARY, because it does not deal with the problem of plastic litter in the environment which cannot be collected; and it is not wanted by industrial composters and local authorities – see https://www.biodeg.org/subjects-of-interest/composting/  People should not be encouraged to buy plastic bags for home-composting, when they could use a bucket. It does not in any event biodegrade properly in a home compost.

 It should not be described as compostable or biodegradable.  It should not be encouraged, and should instead be banned.



This type of plastic has been specifically designed to deal with plastic which escapes into the environment from which it cannot be collected for recycling, composting or anything else.  This is not an intended disposal route – it is an insurance in case waste-management fails.  It is the ONLY way to deal plastic in the open environment and is therefore NECESSARY.


Oxo-biodegradable plastic is not problematic because:

  • 1. It does not create microplastics.  It is not disputed by anyone that most of the microplastics found in the environment are coming from the fragmentation of ordinary plastic, and that they are very persistent. The European Chemicals Agency were not satisfied after a Call for Evidence, that oxo-biodegradable plastic creates microplastics, and ECHA have never provided a scientific dossier in support of any ban on oxo-biodegradable plastic.
  • 2. It should be used and disposed of in the same as ordinary plastic. It can be re-used and recycled  and is perfectly compatible with a circular economy.  See Recycling
  • 3. It will fully biodegrade.  Eurofins and Intertek have done tests showing biodegradation of 88.9% within 121 days and 92.74% within 180 days, respectively. No reason has been shown why biodegradation should stop before it is complete.  The percentage required by ATM D6400 for “compostable” plastic is 90%. Even if it did not fully biodegrade it would still be better than ordinary plastic, which would not have biodegraded at all.

ASTM D6400 for “compostable” plastic requires biodegradation to be tested in a laboratory (not in a compost heap) but some critics suggest that oxo-biodegradable plastic should be tested in outdoor conditions.  As to the correlation between laboratory tests and the real world, see the statement of Dr. Graham Swift, Swift Evidence to BEIS who says “It has been my experience that results from laboratory testing are very likely to be reproduced in the real world. I can see no cause for concern that they would not, and have seen no evidence that they have not.”

The Oxomar project was a three-year interdisciplinary study, sponsored by the French Government Final Report Oxomar and the scientists said “The goal of this task (C3Task2) was to evaluate the biodegradation of OXO-bio in marine waters. This task has been divided in two parts by (i) following several months of OXO-bio-colonization by marine microorganisms under natural conditions and (ii) by evaluating the biodegradability of OXO under natural conditions as compared to a cultivated microorganism with known PE-biodegradation abilities.”

They reported that “We have obtained congruent results from our multidisciplinary approach that clearly shows that oxo-biodegradable plastics biodegrade in seawater and do so with a significantly higher efficiency than conventional plastics. The oxidation obtained due to the d2w prodegradant catalyst was found to be of crucial importance in the degradation process.”

See also the report from Queen Mary University London Microbial Degradation of Plastic in Aqueous Solutions Demonstrated by CO2 Evolution and Quantification Para 2.6 says “prior to testing, samples of LDPE and oxo‐LDPE were surface‐weathered in sea water for 82 days, undergoing natural variations in sunlight and UV intensity.”

  • 4. It leaves no toxic residues, and is tested to OECD ecotoxicity standards
  • 5. It is not disputed that biodegradation will be many times faster than ordinary plastic.  Queen Mary University say up to 90 times faster QM Report para 2.3
  • 6. Although recycling is preferable to biodegradation, it is not possible to recycle plastic which has escaped into the open environment from which it cannot realistically be collected.  The ONLY way to deal with it is biodegradation

Michael Stephen

Michael Stephen is a lawyer and was a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, where he served on the Environment Select Committee. When he left Parliament Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. attracted his attention because of his interest in the environment. He is now Deputy Chairman of Symphony, which is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, and is the founder and Chairman of the Biodegradable Plastics Association.

Earlier Postings in this Column

All articles of Michael Stephen can be found here

Interview with Michael Stephen


The opinions expressed here by Michael Stephen and other columnists are their own, not those of Bioplasticsnews.com

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